Helping the Grass Grow Under Your Feet
Sermon for Sunday 17 June 2018 – Trinity III
St John the Baptist Felixstowe
Text: ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. (Mark 4.26-27)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers
The story is told of a farmer, having reached the age when he could claim his free bus pass, decided to tell his faithful farmhand of his decision to quit farming.
Now the farmhand was what is called a ‘good old boy’ short on education but long on wisdom, and the farmer was worried that he would not get his message across easily. So he called him into the farmhouse kitchen, sat him down, and began to speak…
Farmer: Listen here Jack, old boy, I’ve been thinking about things long and hard and I’ve decided its time to be put out to pasture.
Old Jack: God bless you zur, why on earth would you ever want to do that? I’ve only just gone and shut the cows in the barn for the night!
Farmer: No, I didn’t mean the cows I meant me. Let me say it differently. I’ve decided it’s time to re-tire.
Old Jack: I couldn’t agree more so Farmer. Them tyres on your old station wagon won’t not ever see it through another MOT.
Farmer: I’m sorry old friend let me explain things more simply. From next Monday, and every day afterwards, all I am going to do is sit on the farmhouse veranda with a cup of coffee, and a copy of the Times Crosswords puzzle. Now do you understand me?
Old Jack: Now I’m a gettin’ you zur. Monday is when you’se gonna to take up farming.
And so it is that labourers for generations have often seen their superiors as those who do little whilst their underlings do all the hard work.
When it comes to ‘Farming’ the Kingdom of God, however, there is much wisdom in simply sitting on the veranda, sipping coffee, and completing the crossword whilst watching the harvest grow.
‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. (Mark 4.26-27)
God’s Rule over all creation has been in existence since the moment of creation and we, God’s farmers and co-workers, need to learn to trust in the divine seed which is planted within us and within the whole of creation.
The world is pregnant with the Reign of God, God’s Word will be heard, God’s love will spread, and (in the fullness of time) every knee shall bow and every tongue proclaim God’s praise. Like a seed once planted it will grow with or without our knowledge or consent.
That is what love does.
So then, why isn’t this persistent, fecund, Reign of God’s love visible everywhere we go?
‘If God is in charge’, the atheist often challenges the faithful, ‘Why is there sickness and suffering, famine and drought, war and pestilence?’
One of the reasons why we do not see God’s perfect reign of love being harvested day by day is that we, instead of sitting on the veranda watching the grass grow under our feet, insist on poking at the seed and prevent any harvest at all!
Here is my guide on how not to be a farmer in the Kingdom of God.
1) Insist on digging up the seedlings occasionally to check that they are growing as you think they should – there is no room for wonky veg in Paradise.
2) Weed frequently and vigorously! Yes, it will disturb some of the weaker seedlings but we don’t want to risk any chance of anything unworthy creeping into God’s harvest.
3) Ensure only one kind of crop is allowed to grow in ‘our’ field – we must ensure that only the kind of food we enjoy and appreciate makes it into heaven.
4) Hot housing and ‘forcing’ plants is good – yes we know it makes for fruit and veg that is flavourless and bloated with water but surely we don’t want a faith that is spicy and unpredictable?
5) Never, ever rotate your crops! Of course this sucks the land dry of nutrients over the years but it’s a sin to change things because ‘We’ve always done it that way’.
I am sure we can think of many other ways in which, as a Church and as individual Christians, we hinder the growth of God’s reign and so become the fruitless faithful inhabiting dustbowl churches.
This is sad for, if but left alone to grow unhindered, there is enough power in the Kingdom to provide food and shelter for ‘all the birds of the air’.
Given time, space, and the right conditions we know the Kingdom of God will come in to full bloom. What can we do to help it prosper?
For me personally (and in the end it is only our own lives we can change) this is the little I know about the successful farming of the soul.
For seed to grow well it needs good soil and warmth, water and light.
It is with the help of these four things that love will grow strong in us and amongst us.
Soil: I know if I am going to let love grow in my life, and encourage it’s growth in the lives of those around, me I need to till the soil of my heart. The reasons why I don’t do this hard digging are manifold. But mostly its because I think I know better than God and have convinced myself that I know the dark recesses of my own heart better than the one who made me. A bit sad really… but I believe that lie far too often, and when I do I hinder God’s work in me.
Warmth: I know Winter Wheat and some root vegetables enjoy germinating and sprouting in the cold but, for me, I grow easier when I am warm and comfortable.
During my faith journey I have found the warmth to help me grow in the fellowship others. Being part of a team of ministers in this parish and a brother in the Franciscan family means that I can both receive and give that warmth. But I also find warnth in times of quiet and solitude by visiting sacred sites where our forebears have battled their own demons. I am enriched by spending time in solitary places where all the voices are silenced except that of my Saviour.
In the garden at the very beginning God said ‘it is not good for us to be alone’. If we don’t grow together we are doomed to wither alone.
Water: There is the botanical oddity called the ‘air plant’ which grows without soil or roots and does not need to be watered (it absorbs moisture from the air) but for most us to grow we need water.
I have tried, sometimes out of rebellion and other times because I make myself too busy, to live without the water of God’s Word but it’s a pretty dry and pointless exercise and I end up wizened and worthless.
I have found this water in many places; the most obvious is in the words of the Scriptures but it is found also in the faith journeys of others (when last did you read a spiritual biography?). This life giving water is found as well in those rich moments of communion with God both in bread and wine and soul-centred silence when you realise that God wants to speak to your heart as much as listen to your prayer.
Light: And then there is light! The catalyst that makes it all work! Transforming harmful Carbon Dioxide and life-giving water to produce fresh air and sweet, sweet sugar, which then goes on to help the plant grow stronger and even more fruitful. In the end a fruitful journey of faith is about surrendering our darkness to the light and allowing ourselves to be transformed into goodness. It hurts, it’s humbling, and sometimes humiliating, it probably means you will be asked give up on your own plans in favour of God’s purposes.
If we do not give up on our darkness, if we refuse to turn towards the light, we end up being bedraggled weeds instead of fruitful vines in God’s vineyard.
I have come to know God well enough that God’s will will prosper and God’s will will succeed. The all-providing all-protecting plant that is the Kingdom of God will grow with or without you or me.
I would much rather we grew into a deeper love for God together in the shade of its branches.
I long for the glorious day when the Children of God are finally revealed, creation ceases to grown in longing, and we are all be caught up in singing the endless ‘alleluia’.
In my efforts to hasten that day I have come to know that the first thing I need to do is to get out of God’s way.
This is how we should work in God’s garden:
Ensure that we regularly dig over the soil of our hearts.
Spend time in the warm fellowship of sisters and brothers of the faith.
Drink deeply and frequently at the fountain of God’s word.
Let the Light of Christ shine on every part of our lives.
This is how we let the harvest grow around us and become part of God’s love instead of an antidote to it.
For me this remains a work in progress – ask any of my family and they will let you know I am far from perfect – but isn’t it better to toil in the field of our own lives than harvest weeds?
So then, whether you are a Mary Mary quite contrary, or a born and bred Farmer Giles, how will your garden grow in the week ahead?